DM Screen 33 – Chasing Shadows

Way back when I was initially planning out the storyline of this League campaign, I knew I wanted to give the heroes the opportunity to convert one of the Phyrexian Praetors over to their side. I was thinking about how we could do that in an interesting narrative way and kept coming back to the idea of taking a trip into the Praetor’s subconscious and making a kind of brute-force change to their sense of self and identity. At the time, I couldn’t think of a pre-existing fictional device that would allow me to do that, so I put the thought aside for the time being.

And then, at some point during 2017, I happened to play a game called Persona 5. The whole premise of that game involves the main characters going into a shadowy, dream-like version of reality in order to inflict real, meaningful change on a person’s destructive behavior. I realized that not only would this allow me to use that idea I had had originally, it would also give the heroes an option for getting through Phyrexia in relative safety without downplaying the danger that plane presented.

Of course, I didn’t realize at the time that I’d be doubling my workload by introducing the Metaverse into Phyreixa, as I’d need to come up with enemy stats for both the “real” Phyrexia and the cognitive version of it, but hey, nobody’s perfect.

Your group races through the streets and down the alleyways of this Phyrexian city. As Samus guides you toward her cell’s secret hideout, you begin to see more of the city around you, and it becomes clear that the street on which you arrived was atypically deserted. Further off you can see streets that practically crawl with Phyrexians, many of which appear to be at different stages of conversion: some of them have completely been transformed into the mechanical/insectile/skeletal look that typifies the denizens of this plane, but many of them have little to no immediate, outward sign of the Phyrexian plague aside from pallid skin and inky, dark veins. Then there are those that have begun to undergo the transformation but haven’t been completed yet, and these are truly horrific—the transformation twists the subjects’ bodies in hideous, unpredictable, and grotesquely asymmetrical ways, to the point that Phyrexian traits bulge like tumorous growths from one side or the other, or sometimes a subject’s remaining human traits hang like a dead conjoined twin from the side of an almost-completed Phyrexian. Phyrexians crawl on the streets, along walls, and fly through the air on their own insectile wings or in vehicles of varying types.

Making your way through these streets, even the small handful of blocks to the League hideout, is a harrowing trial involving a lot of darting from one alleyway to another and long segments of time where all you can do is wait in cover for a lull in the passing denizens of Phyrexia so that you can get a few more yards closer to your goal. Samus is clearly practiced in this as she darts her way between shadows, but the tension shown in her body language when a Phyrexian draws near reminds you that, even with her level of experience, she doesn’t fool herself into thinking that she’s ever safe. Eventually, you reach a large, round sewer grate toward one end of an alleyway; Samus lifts up one end and you all slip through down into the dark, dank tunnel beneath. Your journey down here still covers a fair deal of ground, but is much faster and easier without the constant fear of Phyrexian eyes falling upon you.

Finally, after making your way down one winding tunnel after another, you come upon an obviously disused part of the sewer system. Samus walks up to one section of wall, crouches down, and lifts it aside—it looks like the wall itself had been cut away and then fit back up to the rest of the wall, creating a very difficult-to-spot secret passage that leads to the modest-sized hideout.

The room is lit by a single flickering oil lamp on the floor. There’s little in the ways of furniture or fixtures here: just a few mats laid out on the floor for sleeping and what looks like a small camping stove. Beatrix Kiddo greets you as you enter, fixing her light-colored eyes on each of you intensely, her sword held in one hand and a pistol in the other. Sitting cross-legged on the far side of the room is the purple-haired inventor named Lucca, with a screwdriver in her mouth and a wrench in her hand as she makes some adjustments to some sort of spherical device in her lap. And curled up beside her is the black-scaled dragon Toothless, who looks up as you enter with his large, green eyes.

Once all of you are in, Beatrix does a double-take and looks at Samus. “Where’s Raistlin?” Samus can only respond by shaking her head as she pulls off her helmet, looking deeply exhausted. Shock and grief descend upon everyone in the room like a heavy blanket, smothering any good spirits they might have had. Lucca emits only a single cry of despair before clamping her hands over her mouth as her eyes swim with tears.

Once they get to the point that a conversation can begin, the Leaguers gathered here will be interested to hear if the PCs have gathered any information as to the location of the gem they’re after. The Leaguers will freely offer any information about Phyrexia that they can to the players if asked; they don’t have a lot of insight into what the Phyrexians have planned, of course, but they can tell them some info on Phyrexian units and some of the Praetors—in addition to Luthor, Godzilla, and Azula, they have spotted, but not encountered, the black Praetor, who appears to be some sort of shapeshifting warrior and sorcerer. They do not know who the white Praetor is, but from all appearances they appear to be in a different plane, perhaps as part of an invasion.

At some point, Beatrix will say, “If you’re going to be out searching for the next gem, you’re going to need a way of getting through the city without being spotted by the Phyrexians. Fortunately, we may have found someone that can help.”

“That’s where I come in!” a new voice says from a dark corner of the room. The flickering light from the lantern throws a dramatic shadow on the wall of a broad-shouldered dashing figure… but looking down, you see that it was cast by a small and very unusual character. About a foot and a half tall, it looks to be a humanoid cat with black and white fur, large blue eyes, a yellow bandana around its neck and a utility belt around its waist.

Beatrix says, “This is Morgana. We recently managed to rescue him from the Phyrexians. He’s very eager to help us take them down.”

Morgana seems primed to explode with excitement. “You need to get to a specific location without being seen by those monsters, right? I have a plan that I think can help! Do any of you know about the Metaverse?”

“The Metaverse is a sort of sub-realm. You can think of it as the shadow of the physical world. The beings and structures in the Metaverse are formed by the cognitions of those in the physical world. Think of it like stepping into a dream: a tall building in the real world could be miles tall in the Metaverse because that’s how the people in the real world think of it subconsciously. If a person sees themself as a prisoner of their own life circumstances, their Shadow in the Metaverse might be an actual prisoner in chains, but someone who thinks of herself as a queen of all that she sees might be an actual queen in the Metaverse. The Metaverse can be a dangerous place, but the good news is, I’ve been to the Metaverse of Phyrexia several times and it’s clear that the Phyrexians don’t know that it exists! I can help you travel into the Metaverse, and then we can use it as a kind of shortcut to get you past a lot of the Phyrexians.”

Morgana can answer any questions the heroes might have at this point. Their trip through the Metaverse isn’t necessarily going to be completely safe as the Shadows there may still see them as a threat to be eliminated, but those Shadows lack the infectiousness of actual Phyrexians, so fighting them is quite a bit less risky.

Morgana will also clarify that any extended journey will probably have to switch between the real world and the Metaverse; because the Metaverse is constructed of the perceptions of those in the real world, the geography won’t necessarily match up completely, and places that are considered to be off-limits in the real world may be actually physically inaccessible in the Metaverse. Furthermore, Nico’s magical compass will not be able to detect the gem while in the Metaverse, so the heroes will have to leave the Metaverse if they want to reorient themselves in terms of the gem’s location.

F: Rm
A: In
S: Pr
E: Gd
R: Ty
I: Gd
P: Rm

Health: 84            Karma: 46

Bandit Sword: Str+5 damage. If the attack roll is a Yellow or better, you may also add your Agility to the damage.
Garu (Psyche to cast): Rm wind damage to one target. If the attack roll is a Yellow or better, you may target up to two additional targets.
Dia (Psyche to cast): Up to Rm healing to one target. If the casting roll is a Yellow or better, you may target up to two additional targets. Morgana can’t heal more than a total of 120 Health each session with this power.
Baton Pass: If you roll a Red result on an attack in combat, you or another ally of your choice may immediately take an action (this new action can’t trigger Baton Pass again).
Follow-Up (once per encounter): When an ally damages an enemy without defeating it, you may immediately make an attack against that enemy
Harisen Recovery (once per encounter): When an ally receives a negative status effect, you may immediately take a reaction to remove it
Vehicle Form: Ex speed

When the PCs are ready to go, the other Leaguers will say goodbye and bid them good luck (Toothless will give Stitch an encouraging headbutt and will briefly nuzzle Luna, Lucca will tell Mordin to make sure he takes plenty of notes on what he observes both in the Metaverse and deeper within Phyrexia, Beatrix will tell Nico to make sure that everyone stays out of trouble and to kill as many Phyrexians as they can, and Samus will say goodbye to Dante and then give his bicep a curious squeeze, nodding her approval).

Morgana leads all of you back out through the secret entrance and up through a nearby ladder. You emerge into an alleyway back on the surface of Phyrexia, the same noises of industry and smells of gasoline assaulting your senses again. Morgana turns to Nico. “Okay, what direction are we headed?”

Morgana squares his shoulders and narrows his eyes. “Alright everyone, stay close.” As you all draw in, you suddenly feel the urge to rub your eyes as strange, dark concentric circles suddenly expand from numerous points across your vision and you feel a sensation like going from fully awake to fully asleep in seconds. There’s a ripple around you and suddenly the world looks very different.

Before, the world around you was dark concrete and black metal, the buildings were glistening with oil and there was a sort of grimy, hellish industry to everything. The world you’ve emerged into is similar in terms of its layout—you’re still standing in an alleyway between two buildings and can see a street running in either direction at the end—but the whole aesthetic of this place has changed. The buildings around you are made of gleaming, polished silver and project an aura of both artistic perfection and unassailable strength. The street before you is flawless marble and the sky above is a blend of blue and gold, lit equally across by a benevolent and omnipotent glow. Everything about this place would be strikingly, almost unspeakably beautiful, were it not for the sense of oppressive totalitarianism about it. There are no imperfections here, not because an artist threw their passion behind this project, but because any imperfection was aggressively targeted and eliminated. Despite the surface level aesthetic differences, this is still Phyrexia in all its intolerant homogeny.

The heroes are going to have to be careful navigating even the Metaverse version of Phyrexia, so when they are ready to move forward in the direction of the compass, they’ll need to roll to see how well they can maneuver—an Agility (Stealth) roll is the most obvious choice, but if they want to use other powers, abilities, or tactics, they may do so. Have each of them narrate a brief snippet of their individual character’s efforts sneaking through Phyrexia, particularly if they are doing something other than making a Stealth roll.

As you move through the city, you notice that the architecture isn’t the only thing that’s changed—the natives no longer appear as the usual horrific Phyrexians you’re used to, but instead as knights in polished armor, their faces hidden behind full helmets.

The journey moves much more quickly now that you’re in the Metaverse—Morgana is clearly an expert at moving about quickly and stealthily and is able to reliably predict the behavior of the Shadow creatures around you. You lose track of time as you weave through alleyways and down streets, always heading in the direction given to you by the compass.

Eventually, you draw up next to a medium-height building. Morgana cranes his head upward and points at the fire escape zig-zagging its way down the side of the wall, terminating about ten feet off the ground. “We’ve gone quite a ways,” he says. “We should use those stairs to get to the top of this building—from there we can slip back into the physical world and check the compass again.”

If more than half of the PCs rolled a White on the Stealth check when they started to creep out, they will be attacked halfway up the fire escape as Shadows approach from both above and below them. Their armored bodies melt away into inky blackness as strange creatures spring out.

These enemies are taken directly from Persona 5.

Oni (2) (tall, burly red-skinned humanoid with prominent horns and tusks, wearing a loose purple outfit and wielding something partway between a curved sword and a halberd)
F: Ex
A: Ty
S: Ex
E: Ex
R: Ty
I: Ty
P: Ty

Health: 66

Rampage: Deals Ex damage to all enemies in one area

Orobas (2) (red-and-white skinned humanoid with the head, mane, and tail of a horse)
F: Gd
A: Gd
S: Gd
E: Gd
R: Gd
I: Gd
P: Ex

Health: 40

Agi: Deals Ex fire damage to one target (all targets in one area if the attack roll is Yellow or higher)

Orthrus (3) (creature with a vaguely canine-shaped body, with purple fur, a rat-like tail, a yellow mane like a lion, and a face that looks partway between a dog and a bat)
F: Gd
A: Gd
S: Ex
E: Ty
R: Gd
I: Ty
P: Ex

Health: 46

Double Fangs: Roll two attacks at Gd damage each
Agi: Deals Ex fire damage to one target (all targets in one area if the attack roll is Yellow or better)
Cornered Fang: Ex damage to one target, or In damage if Orthrus’s side is outnumbered

Once the heroes have reached the roof of the building, they can get a much better view of the surrounding area. It looks as though they may be near where several different districts of the city intersect, as they can see different building design and street layouts depending on which direction they look. This is confirmed when Morgana shifts them back into the physical world—after the same concentric dark rings across their vision, the heroes feel a sensation like waking up and they see the more familiar version of Phyrexia, with its dark buildings, sickly-colored sky, and swarming insectile denizens.

When the compass is triggered, the blue beam of light flies off at a downward angle, and from where they’re standing, the heroes can clearly see where it is going: toward a walled-off section of the city. The towering, jagged hills within suggest that this may be a junkyard of some kind, and as they watch, the PCs can see large, slow-moving vehicles occasionally fly from one of the other districts of Phyrexia, swoop down low, and deposit new layers to the pre-existing mountains of garbage, before flying off.

The heroes’ best bet for getting in is to hop aboard one of these flying vehicles, but they may have other ideas for how to get into the junkyard. They will also have to decide if they wish to do so through the Metaverse or in the real world.

The vehicles are each a few times larger than a dump truck and have the same general shape as a boat, with a flat top and a bowl-shaped belly. It looks like the crew of the vehicles stand at positions on top of the vehicle, and the bottom of the vehicle opens up to deposit the trash they’re carrying. If the heroes decide to hitch a ride on the flying vehicle, they run the risk of being spotted by the Phyrexian crew onboard (either in Shadow or real form).

I had originally thought that the League would try to hitch a ride on one of the flying Phyrexian vehicles, but they ended up taking a more ground-based attack instead. This was no big deal and was easy enough to improvise around. We’ll see what happens as they draw closer to the gemstone!

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